Thursday, 11 August 2022
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Service dog helps sniff out gluten for 6-year-old diagnosed with celiac disease

A boy with celiac disease is getting help from man’s best friend in a unique way.

One peek inside the Hardesty home and it won’t take long to realize their dog, Hawkeye, truly is man’s best friend. Or in this case, boy’s best friend.


Six-year-old Toby and 2-year-old Hawkeye do everything and go everywhere together.

But once out the door, Hawkeye quickly goes from friend to protector because Toby has celiac disease, which involves an autoimmune response to gluten.

“If he were to bite into a cookie or a bite of a sandwich, something like that, he would have flu-like symptoms that would last for a week or two,” Toby’s mom, Amy Hardesty, said. “He’d get fatigued, his belly gets swollen, he gets headaches, but then on top of all that, he gets what’s called gluten ataxia, which is the whole right side of his body shuts down like he’s had a stroke.”

Hardesty said it took years just for Toby to get a correct diagnosis from a doctor.

“He’s been through so much in such a short amount of time,” she said.

She said it took even more years to get it under control.

“We found very quickly making peanut butter sandwiches and using the same knife in and out of the jar and putting it on Toby’s sandwich was making him sick, so it was just scary,” she said. “Once we learned what to avoid and how to care for him, it was super daunting for a while and we got it under control and we were like ‘Yes! We got it! We know how to do this!’ and then we had to start thinking about school and that so many external factors play into it.”

That’s where Hawkeye’s efforts came into play.

“We just realized we need some extra support,” Hardesty said. “It’s not fair to send him to school and expect everyone else to know how to take care of him and it’s also not fair to put that responsibility on a 6-year-old, because he’s six so we started looking for service dogs.”

Hardesty said the community immediately surrounded them, helping to raise the $16,000 for the specialized trained service dog. Hawkeye is trained to sniff out gluten before Toby even touches something containing the substance.

“Initially that sounds like a lot of money, but when you think about it trainers are often training only one to two dogs at a time and our trainer, she only trained one dog at a time and it took a year,” Hardesty said.

Since getting Hawkeye, Hardesty said the change in Toby is undeniable.

“We’ve really seen just growth and development in him because he’s not getting sick as often and he’s now able to learn more,” she said. “So, he can now say his alphabet, learn his numbers and colors, things that just a year ago he wasn’t doing.”

“She’s a life-giver,” Hardesty continued. “Yeah, she’s breathed life and confidence into Toby that we haven’t seen in a really long time.”

“I do love Hawkeye,” Toby said.

Hardesty said she hopes by middle school, Toby can attend without Hawkeye. She said the plan is then for him to use her only as needed.



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